Would You Like to Work for Free?

It’s been a while since I posted anything on this blog, so I’ll start with an update on my economic situation.

I have a job. It’s a minimum wage job, and it was supposed to be temporary, but they’ve kept me on longer than any other temporary employees. However, they still can’t give me an answer on whether or not they’re gonna keep me on on a more permanent basis. To top it off, they’ve steadily been decreasing my hours at work. When I started, I averaged around twenty-five hours a week or so – a steady, part-time gig. There was even a week where I got up to forty hours. Last week, I only worked eight hours. This week, I’ve got one four-hour shift.

So, naturally, I’ve been applying to other jobs. So far, not many have been calling me back. One did a few weeks ago, though, and eventually I was able to schedule an interview. It was for a tutoring position at a local community college. They pay rate was good, just under fifteen dollars an hour, and it would be part-time. I felt that I was pretty qualified for the position, as well. I went to the interview and talked with the professor for a good long while. I felt a represented myself well.

Today I received an email saying that the college is looking for someone with more experience tutoring. Normally, such an email would end there. However, the professor took the time to tell me that she knows how hard it is to get experience in the current job market, and so she also extended and offer to me to do some volunteer tutoring. Essentially, I would be doing the job that I applied for, but for free, with the possibility of eventually being hired being dangled in front of me like a carrot the entire time.

I know someone in a similar situation. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Parks and Recreation management, and has been volunteering with the Cleveland Metroparks for years, trying to get his foot in the door there so that he can get an actual, salaried position. It’s never happened. I’m also reminded of all the people I see who ask my artist friends to draw something for them for free or for exposure. Again, the chance of that exposure translating into more paid work is being used like a carrot in front of a donkey to try and get them to work for free.

This seems to be a perfectly acceptable tactic in today’s society, and it boggles my mind how that can even be. Proponents of capitalism say that workers should be paid exactly what their labor is worth. But so often that doesn’t happen, and the capitalists shrug and say “if you’re willing to work for it, it must be enough” and “if you don’t like it, work somewhere else.” But I’ve looked everywhere for paying work and it’s either paying shit or you can’t get your foot in the door. So eventually you are forced to compromise and give someone your work for less than what it’s worth just on the off-chance that doing so can build your resume enough that you get a better job. And I just don’t think that’s fair.

P.S. – To clarify, I’m not ragging on the concept of volunteer work. If you have some extra time in your schedule and you want to help out a charity or community fixture such as a library, that’s perfectly acceptable. I’m upset about the idea of free labor being a lead-in for paying work. I feel it’s a disingenuous, slimy cop out.